Note: The budget is signed in record time this ELECTION year. Turzai has not held it up as in previous years.
August 2, 2018 mcall.com Pennsylvania cop union endorses Wolf
Democratic incumbent Gov. Tom Wolf has secured the political backing of Pennsylvania’s largest police union in his bid for a second term.
The state chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents 40,000 police officers, endorsed Wolf at its meeting Wednesday.
Wolf is facing Republican challenger Scott Wagner, a York County businessman and former state senator.
The FOP did not make an endorsement in the U.S. Senate race between incumbent Democrat Bob Casey and Republican challenger Lou Barletta, said FOP President Les Neri. Support was about evenly split among members, he said. It is now up to local FOP chapters to pick a favorite candidate if they want, he said.
The FOP’s decision is tied to Wolf’s support of union’ contract bargaining and pension security rights in Pennsylvania, Neri added.
“Absolutely,” he said. “It’s his strong support for the quality of life issues that affect all Pennsylvania law enforcement officers.”
Wagner, on the other hand, is a vocal critic of government unions and the guaranteed pensions they receive. As a lawmaker and gubernatorial candidate, Wagner has directed most of his union criticism toward teachers while staying clear of criticizing police and fire unions.
The male-dominated membership in police and fire unions tend to lean conservative and have more registered Republicans among their ranks. Teachers unions, which have more female membership, tend to be more liberal and have more registered Democrats. Despite their political differences, all unions fight for the same type of pay, pension and workplace benefits.
Those similar stances don’t mean unions are treated equal in the Republican-controlled Legislature.
Many Republican lawmakers have tried to pass bills reducing the collective bargaining rights of state-based government unions with the exception of state troopers and corrections officers. Last year, the Senate, with Wagner’s support, passed a bill that would have reduced the political footing of unions. The bill would have prohibited all state, county and local governments from using their payroll systems to let workers make voluntarily contributions to their respective union’s political action committees.
When the bill moved the House in December, the troopers union put its political foot down when Rep. Barry Jozwiak, R-Berks, a retired trooper, tried to amend the bill to exclude law enforcement unions. Troopers’ opposition to Joswiak’s move killed the bill, leading to a moment of union solidarity across employment sectors.
It was a fleeting victory, however.
In June, the Republican-dominated U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that government employees cannot be forced to contribute money to unions that represent their respective work sectors.
Wagner has supported the court decision. The FOP and other unions have criticized it.
Wolf also won the support of law enforcement in his 2014 win over incumbent GOP Gov. Tom Corbett, who had tried to get legislation passed weakening state workers’ retirement benefits in the face of mounting pension systems’ debt.
In 2017, Wolf signed into law a pension bill that moved future school and state workers, with the exception of law enforcement and corrections, into new lower retirement systems. The law takes effect in 2019.
“Each and everyone of them put their lives on the line daily to protect us all,” Wolf said. “I remain committed to ensuring that our police officers to have the resources they need in order to continue their selfless work.”
Wagner’s campaign website does not received union endorsements. In June, Vice President Mike Pence endorsed him. Source
July 12, 2018 bizjournals.com Pew researcher: Wolf’s $22M deposit to rainy day fund is a ‘big moment’ for Pa.
By Alison Burdo – Digital Producer, Philadelphia Business Journal
Ever since the Great Recession. Pennsylvania’s rainy day funds have essentially been nonexistent with a recent Pew Charitable Trust report indicating the state’s meager reserve wouldn’t even last three hours. Now for the first time in nearly 10 years, Pennsylvania is depositing money into the budget stabilization fund – a step both the state leader and outside experts are calling significant.
Gov. Tom Wolf said Thursday he is putting $22 million into the rainy day fund, saying the deposit represents a sign of the state’s improved financial condition.
“The commonwealth is better equipped for fiscal stability than it has been in a long time,” he said.
Pennsylvania gutted the rainy day fund in the years following the 2008 financial crisis. It fell from $755 million in fiscal year 2009 to just $700,000 in fiscal year 2010, according to a Pew study titled, “Fiscal 50: State Trends and Analysis.” The report put Pennsylvania among the worst states for its rainy day fund, with “so little stowed away that it could fund operations for less than a tenth of a day.” Meanwhile Pennsylvania has faced a budget crisis in recent years, with the current fiscal year representing the first time in recent memory a balanced budget was passed on time.
“This reserve matters because it is a sign of both fiscal responsibility and a possibility of maintaining fiscal health,” Wolf said, pointing out the $22 million exceeds pre-budget projections of $14 million for the deposit.
Both Wolf and State Treasurer Joseph Torsella said efficiencies helped generate savings that led to the rainy day fund contribution. Reducing the fees associated with the state’s investment funds, streamlining procurement and other processes through the Governor’s Office of Transparency, Innovation, Management and Efficiency, and lowering the number of prisoners in the state’s Department of Corrections, and in turn, the cost to house them, all brought about cost savings.
“By taking common sense steps, we can, in fact, be more responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars,” Torsella said.
“Is this enough for the long run? No,” Torsella said, answering his own question. Regardless, he underscored the governor’s emphasis on the significance of the deposit, albeit a small amount by municipality measures.
“This is a big moment for Pennsylvania,” said Jonathan Moody, a research officer with The Pew Charitable Trusts and one of the authors of “Fiscal 50.”
“This would bring the state up to about a quarter of a day’s operations in their savings,” he continued, noting that still puts Pennsylvania behind the national median of nearly 25 days.
“While [the $22 million] is small, it is an incremental step,” added Steve Bailey, manager of fiscal policy research at Pew. Lots of factors can determine the ideal amount for a state to have in this reserve fund, like the volatility of its economy and leaders’ perspective on what exactly it would cover during another downturn, he said.
But with revenue growth increasing, albeit slowly, “this is the time when states really can and should be saving, so these good times can buffer when the next recession will hit,” Moody said. “Everything starts with that first step and this is showing a commitment to saving. This is a credit positive for the state.”
With the fund crawling higher, Bailey urged state leaders to use this time to revisit the savings policies dictated by law. “No matter what has happened in the past, now is the time for Pennsylvania to think about how it wants to shape its reserve policies moving forward,” he said. “What more and more states are doing and what we have identified as best practices – tie that deposit directly to when revenues are exceeding a typical growth rate of the state.”
To support its rainy day fund, Bailey explained, Pennsylvania directs 25 percent of its unspent revenue to savings, dividing the surplus among the budget stabilization account and spending the rest on other uses. The problem, however, is the state didn’t have a surplus in recent years and continued to tap into the minuscule fund resulting in a negative balance at the end of fiscal year 2017.
During the Thursday announcement, neither Wolf nor Torsella spoke to the possibility of adjusting state savings policies, though the treasurer said his aim is to make sure this is not a one-time fluke.
“The hope is this will be a repeating event,” he said. Source
July 3, 2018 theintell.com Sen. Bob Casey, Gov. Tom Wolf press feds for details on immigrant children
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey pressed the Trump administration Tuesday for information about immigrant children being held in the state, separated from their families at the border after entering the country illegally.
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey pressed the Trump administration Tuesday for information about immigrant children being held in the state, separated from their families at the border after entering the country illegally.
In a letter sent to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Wolf and Casey, both Democrats, asked for answers on how many unaccompanied immigrant children are being held in Pennsylvania, where precisely they are living and what plans there are to reunite them with their parents.
The state, they wrote, is legally required to inspect facilities that house the children and they want to ensure that immigrant children detained in Pennsylvania without their families are receiving the care required under state law.
Wolf’s administration said it asked the questions once already, on June 26, to the acting regional administrator for the department’s Administration for Children and Families.
Casey’s office said the Trump administration told senators that approximately 24 migrant children were being held in Pennsylvania, as of June 26.
In addition, Wolf and Casey asked in the Tuesday letter whether the Health and Human Services Department knows precisely where the children’s parents or guardians are, which facilities contracted to hold the children and how the department is safeguarding their well-being.
Wolf and Casey say they oppose the practice of detaining families of asylum-seekers and separating migrant children from their parents.
The department did not immediately respond to a request for answers Tuesday.
Casey signed a separate letter Monday to Azar and Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen with 10 other Democratic senators asking for details about efforts to reunify migrant parents and children who were being held separately.
Wolf, in the meantime, is under fire from immigrant rights activists to shut down a Berks County facility that is one of three family detention centers in the United States that hold children and parents who have entered the country illegally. The low-security facility north of Philadelphia is run by the county through a contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and residents there are federal detainees.
Wolf’s office said he has done everything in his power to revoke the license from the Berks County Residential Center and that he has urged the Trump administration to shut it down in favor of community-based services.
However, Wolf’s office said that, regardless of any state action, the federal government will continue to operate the facility because it is run under a contract with Berks County.
Wolf’s office said his Department of Human Services, which inspects the facility, has not found grounds to issue an emergency removal order and, in any case, the courts must agree that the residents must be moved. Source
June 22, 2018 Penn Live Gov. Wolf signs $32.7 billion budget for 2018-19
Pennsylvania has budget peace, for now, and spending authorization intact a week early for the upcoming fiscal year.
Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf on Friday signed a $32.7 billion budget package, avoiding the partisan acrimony and protracted budget fights of his first three years in office.
Wolf’s signatures came in the hours after the Republican-controlled Legislature sent a flurry of budget bills to his desk, barely three days after first details of the no-new-taxes package were unveiled.
This budget contains no broad-based tax or fee increases, but boosts spending through the state’s main bank account by $700 million, or 2 percent, largely for schools, social services, pensions and prisons.
June 6, 2018 post-gazette.com Wolf issues gender-pay equity executive order
HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf stood behind a podium in his reception room Wednesday afternoon, pulled out a plastic bag with 79 cents in it and held it up for the crowd to see. That is roughly the amount, the governor and activists say, that women make on average for every dollar a man makes.
“This is unconscionable. It’s wrong,” he said.
A few moments later, the Democratic governor signed an executive order that will prohibit agencies that fall under his jurisdiction from asking some job applicants about their salary history during the hiring process. It’s a move that he hopes will begin to chip away at the gender pay disparity.
The order, which takes effect in about three months, applies to employees who are in management roles or who are not subject to a collective bargaining agreement. There are about 2,000 open positions in those categories, according to the administration. The governor said some union contracts currently forces the administration to ask those questions in the hiring process, and he hopes to work with unions to eliminate those provisions in future agreements.
“We need to ensure that woman and families are not losing out on thousands of dollars a year and millions of dollars over their lifetime,” the governor said.
The governor also encouraged legislators to pass bills that would seek to strengthen the state’s equal pay law, which prohibits employers from discriminating based on gender. But some groups are leery about changing the current law.
Gene Barr, president of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, released a statement Wednesday cautioning against “fundamental changes” to the current state law.
“Anyone familiar with operating a business knows that pay differences among employees can and do exist for many reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with gender discrimination,” Mr. Barr said. “Equal pay law must account for that reality or we risk subjecting honest employers to frivolous and costly lawsuits.”
That argument wasn’t new to state Rep. Brian Sims, D-Philadelphia, who is sponsoring one of the bills that Mr. Wolf supports. He said he rarely hears substantive arguments against equal pay bills.
“When I do, what I hear is that the market dictates what people should get paid, and if the market says [you] can pay a woman less than a man, you get away with it,” Mr. Sims said.
The American Association of University Women says there is, on average, a 21-percent pay gap for women in Pennsylvania, and the disparities can be larger for African-American, Hispanic and Native American women. Source
April 16, 2018 PENN LIVE Aborting fetuses with Down syndrome banned under bill passing Pa. House
By Jan Murphy email@example.com
The state House of Representatives on Monday passed controversial legislation that would make it a crime for doctors to perform an abortion based on the belief the expected child is likely to have Down syndrome.
By a bi-partisan 139-56 vote, the measure now goes to the Senate, where a similar bill has been sitting idle in that chamber’s Judiciary Committee since March 7. If the legislation reaches Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk, its fate doesn’t look promising.
“Pennsylvania Republicans are trying once again to criminalize a health care decision that Governor Wolf has been clear should be made by a woman and her doctor, not politicians in Harrisburg,” said Wolf spokeswoman Sara Goulet about the bill. “This is another example of Harrisburg Republicans exploiting vulnerable families and trying to undermine the doctor-patient relationship to score political points.
The bill, sponsored by House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny County, comes in large part due to recent news reports focusing on Iceland where nearly all pregnancies in which prenatal tests show the child is likely to have Down syndrome are ended in abortion.
Down syndrome is a chromosome-related condition that affects peoples’ appearance and causes physical and learning disabilities.
The legislation would alter the Pennsylvania’s abortion law which allows abortions until week 24 of a pregnancy for any reason other than the child’s sex, to include one more exception when abortions would not be permitted: “A prenatal diagnosis of or belief that the unborn child has Down syndrome.”
The bill drew more than an hour and a half debate filled with personal stories about children with Down syndrome they know and arguments from opponents who see the bill as another attempt to rollback women’s reproductive rights.
House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, took the rare step of leaving the rostrum to speak on the bill he sponsored that he views as a disability rights issue.
He spoke of long-distance swimmer Karen Gaffney who came to the Capitol last month as an example of how babies born with this disorder are capable of achieving amazing feat such as swimming across Boston Harbor, the San Francisco Bay and Lake Tahoe.
“Karen Gaffney understood her life to be a good life and understood the mere existence of that life was wondrous,” he said. “I think sometimes my goodness, what if my parents for some reason didn’t think I was good enough as an unborn child … not perfect enough as a human being.”
Rep. Kate Klunk, R-York County, said she sees the push for terminating fetuses with Down syndrome as “nothing short of eugenics, a cleansing of the genetic pool in order to eliminate those who are not wanted in our population. Iceland is very proud of this fact and the United States is not far behind.”
But Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny County, who was unsuccessful in his attempt to get the legislation ruled unconstitutional by the chamber, strongly opposed the bill.
He called it “another blatantly unconstitutional legislative power grab with one goal: To infringe upon the protected rights of women in the commonwealth to make their own health care decisions.”
Further, he said this bill should give pause to all physicians and health care providers as well as their patients.
“If this bill becomes law, we must assume providers are supposed to find out and judge a patient’s motivation for terminating a pregnancy,” he said. “Providers will be put in a position of trying to figure whether or not they will be criminally charged for doing something their patients requested.”
Rep. Kathy Rapp, R- Warren County, countered that medical and scientific technological advances are changing what it means to live with Down syndrome and other disabilities for the better.
“What should never be denied is the fact that people with Down syndrome and other disabilities have contributed much to our society and they will continue to do so when we finally recognize that each of their precious lives is worth living,” Rapp said.
Opponents, including Rep. Leanne Krueger-Braneky, D-Delaware County, however, argued that if lawmakers were so concerned about serving the individuals with intellectual disabilities they would invest more money to eliminate the waiting lists for the services and supports they require.
“This proves that this bill is not about protecting people with intellectual disabilities or special needs or Down syndrome,” she said. “This bill is just another unconstitutional abortion ban from the same legislators who attempt to roll back the right to a safe legal abortion every single change they get.” Source
Feb 15, 2018 governor.pa.gov Governor Wolf Submits a Fairer Congressional Map to Supreme Court
Harrisburg, PA – Governor Tom Wolf today submitted a map to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that combined features of legislative submissions but, according to an analysis by a gerrymandering expert, was statistically more fair than the Republican leaders’ submission.
“From the outset, I have made clear I wanted a map that was fair and removed the partisanship that Pennsylvanians have been forced to live under since the 2012 elections,” Governor Wolf said. “This map takes features from Republican and Democratic submissions, while still meeting the court’s orders and opinion, to provide Pennsylvanians with a fair map.
“While my preference would have been for the General Assembly to send me a fair map, I believe this map sets forth a new standard of fairness.”
Governor Wolf’s map, along with the Republican leaders’ submission, were independently analyzed by mathematician and gerrymandering analyst, and Tufts University Professor Moon Duchin’s analysis found that in sharp contrast to the Legislative Respondents’ Map, the governor’s map exhibited no partisan skew in comparison to over a billion randomly generated maps. It displayed all the characteristics of what it, in fact, is: a plan drawn with the sole goal of respecting the tenets of traditional redistricting criteria. Read Professor Duchin’s full report (PDF).
The governor’s map is fair, is constitutional, and complies with the court’s order. Further, the map accounts for traditional communities of interests and seeks to avoid cracking, packing and unnecessary splitting of regions. The map has the same number of overall splits as the Republican leaders’ joint submission but reduces the number of counties split more than once and no county is split more than three times.
The administration has provided a webpage with more information, including an interactive map, communities of interest narratives for each district, and map files for download. Source
Feb 13, 2018 Post-Gazette With solar-friendly policies, state solar jobs rise 26 percent
After years of lagging behind other states, Pennsylvania’s solar industry is making substantial gains to catch up.
Jobs in the state’s solar sector increased by 26 percent to nearly 4,000 people in 2017, according to an annual census released by The Solar Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit promoting solar energy.
It was the second consecutive year of employment growth after three years of declines, a sign that solar-friendly policies at the state level — and falling equipment prices encouraging more installations — are making their mark.
The gains come as the national solar workforce declined by 4 percent, the first annual drop since the group began releasing job counts in 2010. Some of the leading solar states, including California, Nevada, Massachusetts and Texas, have experienced deep cuts as, analysts said, prices come down and utility-scale solar projects come online.
Larger installers and manufacturers were also cautious in anticipation of U.S. tariffs on solar imports. Last month, President Donald Trump imposed those tariffs, which were as high as 30 percent on solar equipment made abroad.
Pa. solar industry looking brighterAs the U.S. solar industry rapidly expanded over much of the last decade, it has largely left Pennsylvania behind. This year, the roles have reversed: Pennsylvania jobs increased by 26 percent, while U.S. jobs declined for the first time since tracking began.Growth of solar jobs: Pa. vs. U.S., 2012-17 Read more
Feb 11, 2018 wesa.form Wolf Says He’ll Send The PA Supreme Court A Fair Congressional Map, Even If He Has To Draw His Own
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf is promising he’ll send a politically impartial congressional district map to the state Supreme Court by its Thursday deadline if the Republican-controlled legislature cannot draw one themselves.
“What happens next, in any case, is that I take a look at this map and have a panel of objective experts look at it,” Wolf said Monday.
According to the court order, Wolf does not have to accept the GOP map. If he rejects it, he can submit his own by the same deadline.
Since the Supreme Court dismissed the state’s congressional map three weeks ago, Wolf has sought public input on how to create fair districts. He went on a series of “listening tours” at universities across the commonwealth, stopping at Point Park University on Feb. 1.
Jan 17, 2018 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Gov. Wolf taking steps to expand who gets OT pay in Pennsylvania
About a year after a judge blocked a similar rule on the federal level, Gov. Tom Wolf plans to expand overtime pay for about 460,000 workers in Pennsylvania who currently make too much to qualify for the time-and-a-half pay for extra hours worked.
The governor, making the announcement on Wednesday at a Philadelphia grocery store, said the current salary limit to qualify for overtime — $23,600 annually, or $455 a week — means people are not being fairly compensated for working long hours on low-wage jobs.
“It’s simple. If you work overtime, then you should get paid fairly for it,” the governor said in a press release following Wednesday’s announcement. “This important step will put more money into the pockets of hardworking people and will help expand the middle class in Pennsylvania.”
Mr. Wolf’s announcement immediately drew criticism from business groups and praise from labor advocates.
The proposal, which expands overtime in phases over three years, would raise the amount that certain salaried employees can earn and still qualify for overtime pay. Beginning Jan. 1, 2020, the state would raise the salary limit to $31,720, or $610 per week.
The threshold will increase to $39,832 on Jan. 1, 2021, followed by $47,892 in 2022, which the Wolf administration estimates will extend overtime eligibility to up to 460,000 workers.
But the proposal’s future could hinge on the outcome of the gubernatorial election, as Gov. Wolf faces multiple Republican challengers in a re-election battle this year. The governor has unsuccessfully pressed the legislature to pass an increase in the minimum wage, which sits at $7.25 an hour, the lowest allowed by federal standards.
Boosting overtime pay for workers, meanwhile, would only need approval from the Independent Regulatory Review Commission, a five-member board that reviews all proposed state regulations. Three of the board’s five members were appointed by Democrats.
The Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry expects to release the proposal for public comments in March, and a final version of the rule would follow.
Gov. Wolf’s plan is similar to federal overtime rules that were passed in 2016 under the Obama administration and blocked by a federal court later that year. The Trump administration in 2017 moved to roll back the requirements.
The U.S. Department of Labor had briefly allowed workers making up to $50,440 a year to qualify for overtime pay — 150 percent of regular pay — when they work more than 40 hours a week. The Obama administration argued that a cap of $23,660 a year excluded about 4.2 million people, many of them middle-class managerial positions in the retail and hospitality industries.
To comply, businesses would have been required to either track hours and pay overtime for newly qualified workers or raise salaries above $50,440 to keep them exempt.
Under the governor’s proposal unveiled Wednesday, employers would face the same decision.
Business groups criticized the rule and argued that workers would be hurt by the rule. Businesses that can’t afford the costs of overtime or the pay increases will likely force employees to return to hourly work and limit their hours, said Kevin Shivers, executive state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, which represents 14,000 employers in Pennsylvania.
The rule is “an election-year stunt that will force young managers to return to punching time cards, limiting their job responsibility and flexibility, and hampering their chances of career growth,” Mr. Shivers said.
Mr. Shivers, whose group sued the Obama administration over the federal overtime rule and won an injunction from a Texas judge in November 2016, suggested the governor could face a similar legal challenge.
“There are serious legal questions about whether or not the Wolf administration can do this through a regulatory change, and our legal team is researching that,” he said.
The rule could also draw fire from nonprofits, which opposed the Obama rule without some sort of exemption.
A 2016 survey by the Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Partnership found seven in 10 of its members would face higher labor costs under the federal rule — especially challenging because nonprofits generally can’t pass along the added expense to consumers.
Further, nonprofits that provide services to people with disabilities, which rely on Medicaid funding for revenue, argued they face service cuts if lawmakers do not also approve in increase in reimbursements.
On Wednesday, labor advocates applauded the governor’s move as a long-overdue update of overtime protections.
“Gov. Wolf has set an example for other state leaders to follow,” said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, based in New York City.
“In the coming months, we expect governors and legislators around the country to stand up and resist the Trump administration’s rollback of overtime protections.”
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald joined the praise. “For too long, so many have worked long hours, but have not been paid for the work that they do,” Mr. Fitzgerald said in a press release. “We know that the confidence in their own earning power will result in money being spent in their local communities, which benefits us all.” Source
Jan 17, 2018 PennLive Former Gov. Tom Corbett’s fingerprints are on Pa. birth certificate change from mother, father to parent
Controversial changes to the parent reference on Pennsylvania birth certificates began under former Gov. Tom Corbett (left) when the reference was changed from “mother” to “mother/parent” and from father to “father/parent.” Gov. Tom Wolf can take credit for making that reference gender-neutral to “parent.” (File photos/PennLive.com)
A word change on Pennsylvania birth certificates may have been overlooked by parents in the joy and excitement of welcoming a baby into this world in recent months, but it sure is getting some attention now.
No longer does this legal document identify the child’s mother as “mother” or his or her father as “father.” Instead, they are now each identified as “parent.”
It’s a change made on birth certificates for babies born since August “to include all families and reflect the fact that same-sex marriage is the law of the land in Pennsylvania,” said Gov. Tom Wolf’s spokesman J.J. Abbott.
“Governor Wolf continues to support making government more respectful of all families and will continue to ensure state government treats all families with the dignity that they deserve.”
The health department, the state’s repository for vital records, says the law gives it the responsibility of designing the forms for vital records and spokeswoman April Hutcheson said, “it has fulfilled that obligation.”
But House State Government Committee Chairman Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler County, along with 24 Republican colleagues, take a different view.
In a letter sent to Wolf on Thursday, they accuse the Wolf Administration of acting without legislative approval in making this change and therefore, is in violation of the law.
The law calls for “mother and father to be on the birth certificate, not parent and parent,” Metcalfe said. “They are doing nobody any good by pushing their social agenda through changing birth certificates for all the many babies born since August. Every baby has a mother and a father. They don’t have two parents that are not of the opposite sex.”
Michael Geer, president of the Pennsylvania Family Institute, agrees the purpose of a birth certificate is to document “key realities at the time of a baby’s birth,” namely a time and date stamp, where the birth occurred and the name of “the mother and father physically responsible for the existence of the baby — since every child comes from a male and a female. Original birth certificates should retain this record for historical and medical records purposes,” he said.
But Molly Tack-Hooper, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania argues misgendering a child’s same-sex parents on a birth certificate is a form of sex discrimination and unacceptable in her organization’s eyes.
The ACLU began talking to health department officials about changing the wording on birth certificates since shortly after the May 20, 2014, court ruling that struck down Pennsylvania’s ban on same-sex marriage. They said it was a cause of confusion for same-sex couples and demeaning as well. The organization worked with the department to develop guidance for hospitals on how to handle same-sex couples having a baby and followed it up with a FAQ.
While the ACLU didn’t threaten a lawsuit as the lawmakers suggested in their letter is what prompted the department to make the word change, she said if the department took that from its conversations with her that would be understandable.
“A parent is accurate for every parent,” Tack-Hooper said. “The fact that Representative Metcalfe would prefer everyone to be gendered does not mean that is how it should be. I am thrilled Pennsylvania is no longer misgendering parents and has brought their system into the 21st century.”
Leanne Magee of Philadelphia recalls how stressful it was when she and her same-sex partner filled out paperwork as they were about leave the hospital with their newborn son, who is now 3-and-a-half years old. They crossed out “father” and wrote in “mother” beside it but that was not accepted by the hospital staff. She ended up leaving her partner’s name listed as father.
“It’s a total misrepresentation of the parenting relationship,” Magee said. “It’s such a physical and tangible reminder of how unequal we are despite the marriage equality ruling.”
Now hearing of lawmakers’ opposition to the new wording on birth certificates “seems like such a hateful place to dig in,” Magee said. “It just seems interesting there would be legislators who prefer an inaccurate piece of legal documentation over something that’s accurate.”
While the health department told PennLive it cost $43,425 to make the change on the birth certificate form, Metcalfe, who hasn’t yet received an official response to the letter that was sent to Wolf, said the department told him it spent millions of dollars on it.
John Dawes of Equality PA, a civil rights group representing the state’s LGBTQ community, said Metcalfe is making this about cost when he really favors “actively discriminating against and taking away rights of LGBT parents.”
Metcalfe said his views about same-sex couples is not the issue here.
“I’m really a little discouraged when I hear people who advocate for the homosexual agenda would actually come out and support the governor taking an action that is not ultimately allowed under the statute,” Metcalfe said. “I think every citizen ought to be offended when an elected official does not uphold and defend the constitution they’ve sworn to and does not operate within the confines of the law. That is the foundation of the argument against this.” Source
Jan 5, 2017 The Meadville Tribune As medical marijuana gets closer, legal questions swirl
HARRISBURG — The same day Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced that the state’s first dispensary for medical marijuana is ready for business, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced he’s rescinded an order that stopped federal prosecutors from going after marijuana sales in states where it’s legal.
Sessions’ move shouldn’t have an impact on the state’s new program in the short-term because an amendment in the federal budget bars the Department of Justice from spending any money to go after state’s medical marijuana program.
But Sessions’ hostile stance has advocates worried and the governor defiant.
Wolf said he will challenge any move by the Department of Justice to interfere with the state’s medical marijuana program.
“Despite backwards moves by the Trump administration, I will continue to protect cancer patients, kids with epilepsy, veterans with PTSD and all Pennsylvanians seeking relief from legal medical marijuana,” Wolf said. “In Pennsylvania, we legalized medical marijuana in an overwhelming and bipartisan fashion, and we are months away from getting this medicine to patients that need it.”
Wolf said state officials are still working to determine the exact impact of Sessions’ Thursday announcement.
California on Monday became the sixth state — along with Alaska, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Washington — to allow the sale of marijuana for recreational use. Pennsylvania is one of 29 states that allow marijuana to be used for medical purposes.
Wolf said that the Department of Health approved Keystone Canna Remedies in Bethlehem as the state’s first dispensary. It will open once there is marijuana available. The state already has approved nine growing and processing facilities. More than 10,000 Pennsylvanians have notified the state that they would like to get medical marijuana.
The amendment barring federal prosecutors from spending tax dollars to impede states’ medical marijuana programs is included in the continuing resolution that is now funding the federal government, said Becky Dansky, a spokeswoman for the Marijuana Policy Project. It has been renewed numerous times “so here is a track record” of Congress barring the Department of Justice from targeting medical marijuana programs, she said.
Even so, in light of Sessions’ move, “what we expect is major pushback” to make sure that the amendment protecting medical marijuana programs remains in place when Congress takes up the spending bill later this month, she said.
“If that’s not there, there is cause for concern,” Dansky said. “But as long as that’s in place, they can’t spend one cent” to go after medical marijuana. Source
Dec 22, 2017 Daily Times Groups put pressure on Wolf to halt Mariner East 2 construction
HARRISBURG >> Six community members and two elected officials met face-to-face with Gov. Tom Wolf Wednesday as they ratcheted up the pressure to halt construction of the Sunoco Mariner East 2 Pipeline until a new safety assessment can be performed on the controversial project.
The residents from Delaware and Chester counties asked the governor to use his executive authority under Title 35 to immediately halt pipeline construction and operations, and to assess the risk the project poses to the safety of communities along the route.
“The residents, all members of the bicounty, bipartisan coalition Del-Chesco United for Pipeline Safety, additionally demanded that the commonwealth mitigate that risk to vulnerable populations impacted by the hazardous, highly volatile liquid export pipeline,” reads a coalition release.
State Reps. Leanne Krueger-Braneky, D-161 of Swarthmore, and Carolyn Comitta, D-156 of West Chester, joined the residents.
The governor was presented with letters from a bipartisan group of elected officials. Urging action were U.S. Rep. Patrick Meehan, R-7 of Chadds Ford, state Sens. Andrew Dinniman, D-19, and John Rafferty, R-44, and state Reps. Becky Corbin, R-155, Duane Milne, R-167, and Comitta.
“During the meeting, residents repeatedly stressed the urgent need to address the threat to densely populated communities, and once again handed Gov. Wolf a petition containing over 6,000 signatures asking him to protect the safety of schools,” reads the release.
J.J. Abbott, Wolf’s press secretary, released the following statement Thursday afternoon: “Gov. Wolf has met with elected officials from this area and wanted to also hear from residents. He appreciated the meeting. As we have said previously, any safety assessment would have to be conducted by the PUC and Gov. Wolf would support such an assessment being done. As the PUC is the relevant authority with safety oversight over this project, if they were to perform this evaluation we would coordinate with them on how to proceed to safely and adequately assess safety concerns with this project.”
The now-under-construction Sunoco Mariner East 2 pipeline will carry highly volatile liquids and snake 350 miles across from Marcellus Shale deposits in West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania to the former Sunoco Refinery in Marcus Hook, Delaware County.
Jeff Shields, Sunoco Pipeline communications manager, again repeated the company’s stance that construction is being done to the highest safety standards of the industry.
“We understand there are varying opinions on infrastructure projects such as ours, however, pipelines are the safest and most environmentally friendly way to transport the oil and gas products we use every day,” Shields said. “The mainline construction of ME2 is approximately 91 percent complete and our HDDs (Horizontal Directional Drilling) are approximately 62 percent complete. We look forward to completing our project in a timely manner. The safety of all pipelines is built into the strict federal regulations for the construction, operation and maintenance of transmission pipelines. Those include not just the Mariner East 2 system but the many natural gas and natural gas liquids pipelines that have operated safely for decades throughout the commonwealth. It is well documented that we exceed those federal safety regulations in many areas, including pipe thickness, depth, weld testing and pipeline inspection.”
The company picked up a legal victory Thursday when the state Public Utility Commission lifted an injunction against that had halted construction in West Goshen Township.
Work had been stalled since July in a dispute between the township and company over the installation and location of a valve station.
Bibianna Dussling is a Middletown resident and co-president of the Middletown Coalition for Community Safety.
“We’ve seen a rapidly growing bipartisan consensus to halt the construction and properly assess the risk of the Mariner East project,” Dussling said. “We hope the governor will take these concerns seriously and take immediate action to protect our safety.”
Caroline Hughes of East Goshen also attended the meeting.
“We expect the governor to take swift action, to use his authority to protect us, as mandated by his oath and his office,” Hughes said as leader of Goshen United for Public Safety. “Citizens are prepared to escalate our voices and demand representative action.
“We’re getting the attention of people in office that have an ability to make a change and we’re taking every opportunity to communicate the urgency of the situation.”
Comitta called on the governor to halt construction.
“I have been talking and meeting with constituents, state agency heads, township officials and Sunoco representatives regarding the Mariner East 2 project since I took office,” Comitta said. “Unfortunately, this project has experienced a record number of incidents and that is completely unacceptable.
“It’s past time to assess the safety risks so that our first responders and residents have the information they need to be safe, and it’s regrettable that this wasn’t done prior to the start of the project.”
Rebecca Britton of the Uwchlan Safety Coalition said Wolf seemed eager to learn about the group’s presentation.
She talked about Wolf’s role, and the need for him to halt construction under Title 35.
“The governor has the ability and primary responsibility to protect the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of Pennsylvania,,” Britton said.
Melissa DiBernardino said she will pull her kids form SS. Peter and Paul Elementary School if the new pipeline goes through. The planned pipeline runs less than 100 feet from several schools and a senior care center.
“While Gov. Wolf wouldn’t give an answer today, he assures us we’ll get one soon,” she said. ”I hope he sees the urgency in this. Every day he lets this continue, my children are at risk while Mariner 1 runs. Our children (and people of all ages) need a hero right now. Let’s hope he comes through within two weeks.” Source
Dec 21, 2017 philly.com Gov. Wolf calls for ban on taxpayer-funded settlements in harassment cases
HARRISBURG — Gov. Wolf has asked a state agency to prohibit taxpayer money from being used to settle sexual harassment claims against elected officials following news that the House paid nearly a quarter-million dollars to settle a complaint against State Rep. Thomas Caltagirone.
“I’ve put into place reforms that we make sure that we don’t do that anymore — that I don’t care who starts it — that the state doesn’t pay taxpayer money for settlements,” Wolf said Thursday morning.
The governor’s office said he “was not aware of this settlement or payment” until Tuesday, when the Philadelphia Inquirer/Daily News and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette broke news of the secret payout. In 2015, checks totaling $248,000 were cut to a longtime employee in Caltagirone’s district office and her attorneys, arising from claims of verbal and physical harassment over several years. Caltagirone, 75, a Democrat from Reading, Berks County, has denied the claims and said his attorneys encouraged a settlement to avoid the high costs of fighting a case in court.
The money passed through the Employee Liability Self-Insurance Program, which pays for claims where the state is liable, often covering things like damage to private vehicles. Each legislative caucus and the executive branch pay into the fund based on the number of employees they have, past complaints and other factors that might impact their risk level.
The state’s Bureau of Risk and Insurance Management, which falls under the umbrella of the Department of General Services, processes the payments but does not get involved in negotiating or approving settlement terms. In this case, that would have been done by the House Democratic caucus, led by Minority Leader Frank Dermody of Allegheny County. Dermody has declined interview requests, saying that he was prohibited from discussing cases with confidentiality agreements.
J.J. Abbott, spokesman for Wolf, said the bureau director that oversees the insurance program determined in October 2014 that the settlement could be paid through the state fund. He said that decision was made “solely by” the bureau director.
Wolf, a Democrat, took office late in January of 2015, and the checks were cut the following month.
Former Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican who preceded Wolf in office, said Thursday, “I have no recollection of this kind of stuff happening.”
He said, “As far as I know, that wouldn’t have come to me. If that was a settlement that [the] caucus agreed to with whoever, that would have been, as far as I know, pro forma.”
Abbott said Wolf directed DGS to immediately stop approving settlement payments from the liability fund in cases of sexual harassment and abuse by elected officials.
Wolf, and some Democratic representatives, have called for Caltagirone to resign. Caltagirone has said he plans to stay in office. Source